Young People Choose: Adolescents' Text Pleasures

By Ryan, Josephine | Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Young People Choose: Adolescents' Text Pleasures


Ryan, Josephine, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy


I have a real passion for movies. I read movie magazines. I read books about movies ... I've seen quite a few movies and would be able to tell you a fair bit about most movies. (David, year 9, aged 15)

David, we can be confident, will be a lifelong learner, at least as long as movies continue to be screened. This paper will describe the ways in which many young people are reading and interacting with texts of all sorts, often without adult direction, in fields not covered by their formal schooling. They do so out of curiosity and 'passion' without seeking external rewards for their efforts. An analysis of the independent reading and viewing of these young people will be the basis for recommendations for productive directions for the teaching of English in formal schooling. The study reported here adds to the Australian and international research which tells us that if schools are to be relevant to many young people they must connect more sensitively with what young people already know (Durrant & Beavis, 2001; Hull & Schultz, 2002; Wilhelm & Smith, 2001). Particularly for young men, and for students from working-class and non English-speaking backgrounds, there is a serious disconnection between the text practices that they experience at home and those of school. Taking seriously young people's experience suggests that English teachers must reaffirm sometimes forgotten aspects of successful English teaching:

* the need to give students some degree of choice in their reading

* allowing curriculum choices to build on students' knowledge

* ensuring that response to reading is multi-sensory.

Background and methodology

Australia, like other western countries, has heard much about literacy 'standards' during recent years (National Center for Education Statistics, 2001; Milburn, 2000). The rhetoric is often about the ways in which contemporary schooling is failing young people ('Lower performing students lost ground', 'Girls continue to out perform boys in reading.' National Centre for Education Statistics, 2001. Milburn, Our desperate schools, 2000). In this paper the emphasis is on what students are learning. The findings emerged as an unexpectedly rich aspect of a project 'Teaching and learning text in year seven to ten English', which focussed on the teaching of reading in secondary English classrooms. The project, based in Melbourne, involved interviews with 14 secondary English teachers and 53 of their students. This paper will discuss the data from the interviews with the students. Students aged 14-16 were asked about the texts they read and viewed at school and in their leisure time. They were a balance of males and females from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and attended schools which ranged from high fee paying to government and Catholic schools in working class areas. The project was designed to look at the impact of gender and class on students' experience with texts. 'Text' was very broadly defined in the project to mean magazines and screen-based texts as well as books. As others have argued (Millard, 1997; Sefton-Green, 1999; Wilhelm & Smith, 2001), it is important to view text practices not from the narrow perspective of what the formal education system values, but from a broad, inclusive perspective. With one exception when three boys were interviewed together, the researcher interviewed all students on their own for about 30 minutes. Transcripts of the interviews were coded in terms of recurring concepts (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). In this process the following areas emerged as significant:

* the variety of texts young people enjoyed: film, television, especially computers being more significant than books for many of them

* gender as highly important in shaping young people's relation to text

* the significance of socioeconomic and language background to reading practices.

I like some books. (Ryan, Year 10)

Asked about his feelings about reading, Ryan's response typifies the limited pleasure that book reading had for the majority of young people in the study. …

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